When you’re picking up a YA dystopia with a twist on depression, you go into it with certain expectations. Number one on that list of expectations is probably: the author will know what depression is. Surely that’s a given, right? Right?
For some ridiculous reason, depression is an epidemic in this world and considered to be a virus. I don’t know whether The Program takes place in a futuristic version of our world or some other dimension (all information is conveniently vague), but either way it’s no excuse. The entire premise is flawed as fuck.
“When the deaths first started increasing, there were all sorts of rumors. From defective childhood vaccines to pesticides in our food – people grasped for any excuse. The leading view says that the oversupply of antidepressants changed the chemical makeup of our generation, making us more susceptible to depression.
I don’t know what I believe anymore, and really, I try not the think about it. But the psychologists say that suicide is a behavioral contagion. It’s the old adage “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you, too?” Apparently the answer is yes.”
Even if your book takes place in an alternate universe, if you’re calling your epidemic ‘depression’, then you have to follow the fucking rules. If you think “fuck that shit”, then just call your disease something else. You’ve already proved you can think up names for shit. You’ve named your characters (poorly, in my opinion, but hey) and you dreamed up an instant suicide concoction called ‘QuikDeath‘. Yes, dear readers, here is an author who doesn’t fuck around with fancy, pharmaceutical titles: it just does what it says on the bottle.
Circling back round to the point: I can’t get over the fact that you have not portrayed depression correctly at all. I don’t know if an actual epidemic of depression is possible and what on earth would cause it but I know for a fact that psychologists would not decide that it’s a behavioral contagion. They would not round up all the teenagers and stick ’em in facilities to erase their memories. Depression doesn’t work that way, it doesn’t come from seeing bad shit. Sure, bad shit can often act as a catalyst, but once those brain chemicals are imbalanced, you can’t just amnesia your way out of that. You would still have depression, and you’d have a disturbing case of amnesia on top of that.
To add salt to my figurative wounds, none of the characters actually display symptoms of depression. I am not joking. They cry a lot and they tend to off themselves, that is all. And the only reason they cry all the time is because their lives are shit. Their friends and siblings are killing themselves, others are taken by The Program and come back with no memories of anyone at all. They can’t mourn their losses and live in constant fear that they’ll be taken away and brain-raped at any time. And the only reason any character has had for committing suicide was to escape The Program. Not because they were so wrapped up in their own mind and misery that they were pushed to the edge, no; because it was a choice between losing the memories that made them who they were or death.
It’s not depression when the only two symptoms out of a bloody long list of ’em are actually caused actually caused by the very institution that wants to cure them.
At first I thought that was the point, you know. I thought The Program was up to something and our main characters were going to bust the place open and expose their operation.
The plot of The Program is the love story with some half-arsed and poorly researched dystopian elements thrown in. It’s not even a decent love story with fully rounded characters. And there’s a love triangle because we all know how everyone just loves one of them. I guess the romance genre lovers would get into this book a lot more, but I was in it for the dystopia and I was hoping for a clever and original plot. The ‘depression’ hook reeled me in and the only reason I kept reading was to find out whether the author redeemed herself.
The only possible thread I was briefly able to cling to was this:
“”This discussion is over,” my mother says quickly. I meet her eyes over the table, and I can see she is in full panic mode. “You tried to kill yourself, Sloane. They told us you were resistant in The Program, too. We could have lost you, just like we lost your brother. The Program kept you alive, and for that I’m blessed. Any inconvenience you may feel now will fade soon enough. And if you just can’t bear it, maybe we should call the doctor and see if there is another treatment available. I can’t go through this again” She starts to cry. “I just can’t.””
I found this mini-monologue quite poignant, and spent ages trying to figure out if Suzanne Young was trying to make a point. Is she commenting on the selfishness of ‘the depressed’ versus the selfishness of those who aren’t, and the power play that’s at stake? Sloane may or may not be depressed; all the reader’s seen is that she’s very upset that her life is shit and people keep dying on her. Ultimately her memories are erased. To help her? Surely not because that method is bollocks. For her parents’ convenience..? Perhaps…
Maybe that was the vague point Suzanne Young was trying to make. Maybe I’m giving her too much credit. But my review of this book will not hinge on a ‘maybe’. My point and rating still remain.
Needless to say I won’t be sequeling it, and I don’t recommend anyone else gets close to this series either.
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